"Alto mourned by Community" is the headline of the lead story of today's Crimes-Picayune. "Family and friends gather to mourn the passing of local businessman Anthony Alto," we are informed. "Alto has been active in civic affairs since opening his waste management/strip club business in 1989."
Most of the front page of the paper is taken up with the details of Mr. Alto's unexpected demise. There is a head shot of the deceased (who bears an uncanny resemblance to actor Christian Bordelon) with the caption: "Alleged Mob boss Tony Alto killed in a fiery SUV crash."
Related articles inform us: "A horrific explosion rocked the night skies on Paris Road near the 'hump by the dump' in Chalmette last night. Police assume the only occupant of the car was indeed Mr. Alto, although results are pending due to identification of body parts being found as far away as the Nunez Campus."
"I suspect foul play," added an astute police detective named Bonnie Cook.
This tabloid is handed out to the stricken and the curious who gather each weekend for the obsequies of the notorious Tony Alto in the Ba Da Bang Strip Club and Funeral Parlour, located next to the legendary Rocky and Carlo's Restaurant on St. Bernard Highway.
The Altos ("like the Sopranos, only lower") is billed as an Interactive Musical Comedy Mob Mystery Spoof -- and Shine Productions is unlikely to be sued for false advertising. You do get all of the above, plus a delicious down-home dinner.
The interactive part can be a hoot, although there is a certain anxiety involved that can interfere with your digestion if you're a shrinking violet. On the night I attended, a woman who was seated in the first row of the center aisle pleaded with me to change places so that she would be less at risk of getting singled out and hauled onstage. Her desperation was so deep, she was willing to separate from her husband. I had no choice but to be labeled a heel or to relent, although I also cringe at the thought of participating. As a result, part of my attention during the show was diverted by the effort of generating a pranic egg of invisibility. Although even I have some pleasant memories of coerced moments in the limelight -- like being accosted by Brian Peterson (in drag as an Andrew Sister) to dance a fox-trot. To be sure, this lighthearted sort of audience involvement beats the hell out of the 1960s variety, when you found yourself holding hands with an ersatz gypsy, reeking of incense, who was on the verge of tears because society would not allow him to walk the streets naked. In any case, it can be hilarious to see the expression on a young lady's face when she's berated as Tony Alto's mistress, who's had the nerve to attend the funeral.
Basically, the show is a whodunit or, to be more eloquent and up-to-date, "who whacked da guy?" In this loving family, everyone is a suspect: Tony's mother, Nona (Tana Adda Chase), who looks like a nice-a, old-a Sicilian matron; his wife, Toffee (Judy Lachney), who's got a thing for the priest; Father Flip (Barry Lemoine), who would like to give Toffee something to confess about; Uncle Senior (Ron Blanchard), who feels gypped out of his chance as top dog; Chris (William Schneider), Tony's right-hand man, bodyguard and chief flunky; or even Dr. Malaise (Shannon Gildea), Tony's shrink. Each character has a motive. We, the mourners, have to pick the guilty party.
All this unfolds in a most congenial atmosphere, with bits of dialogue and a few catchy song numbers (with some droll go-go back-up dancing). The actors clearly enjoy themselves and create a suitably skewed Mafioso world, full of gagootzas and strunzes -- and here's hoping the Italian version of an anti-defamation league has as good a sense of humor as our local paisanos. But hey, this is the land of the wop salad; political correctness is apparently not a swamp plant.
A lot of the jokes and character types are pretty familiar. It's the spirit and the manner, more than the content, that makes for the fun. Although I did find it hysterical when enforcer Chris took his revenge on poor old Uncle Senior (who is wired with court-ordered electronic devices to prevent him from fleeing the jurisdiction) by zapping him with a wireless garage door opener!
Rose Marie DiGiovanni Sand directs this entertaining trifle. If you're in the mood for an evening of amiable Chalmatian silliness, you might oughta get your gagootza down there.
- Meet the Altos: Judy Hoffmeister, Joey Difatta, Mark Benefatti and Bonnie Cook.